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Intervention Math: Just In Time Intervention

Maybe you’ve been asked to teach a middle school math intervention or RTI class or an intervention math class for high school. Maybe you’re teaching a regular math class, but so many of your students have so many gaps in their math skills that you’re not able to get through the amount of content that you need to. Maybe you’ve been given resources or maybe you’ve been given the freedom to find your own (a blessing and a curse). I’ve been right where you are and this blog post will help.

In this post I’ll be covering what “just in time” intervention really is, what the benefits are, and how to actually do it well.

Intervention math and struggling math students are my passion. I became a high school math teacher not because I have a love for math, but because I realized math is the “gate keeper” for many historically underserved students - without passing math, students can’t graduate thus creating a gate. Failing math is also the #1 reason students decide to drop out of high school. I wanted to change that. So when I started teaching high school math support and algebra 1 in South Central Los Angeles, I was pumped about the impact I could have. But boy of boy was it harder than I expected. I went on to teach intervention and Algebra 1 in East San Jose and Denver as well. And at each school I was asked to teach something different in my intervention math class. Sometimes I was asked to go back to middle school content entirely and fill in all the gaps just in case they missed it. Sometimes I was asked to teach them the same grade level content and intervene just in time. In this post I will share my personal experiences teaching intervention math and help you learn from my years of learning what works best for students who struggle with math.

Definition: Just in time math interventions vs just in case math interventions

Just in time intervention is a teaching approach that provides students with targeted support at the moment they need it, rather than in advance. It is designed to address specific learning gaps or difficulties as they arise, in real-time, during the teaching and learning process. Just in time interventions are typically shorter and more focused than traditional, "just in case" interventions and aim to provide students with quick and immediate feedback, guidance, and support.

On the other hand, just in case intervention is a teaching approach where support and resources are made available to students before they need it, based on the assumption that they may encounter difficulties in the future or have failed to learn that concept in the past. This approach usually involves preparing and delivering lessons, activities, or resources in advance and making them available to all students, regardless of their individual strengths and weaknesses. While just in case interventions can be beneficial in certain circumstances, they may not be as effective as just in time interventions in addressing students' immediate learning needs and keeping them engaged in the classroom.

Benefits of just in time interventions

I have come to be a believer in just in time interventions instead of just in case interventions, but it wasn’t always this way. Early in my teaching career I enjoyed having a whole period to fill in all the middle school content my students had previously failed. I saw nothing wrong with that. It wasn’t until my fifth year in the classroom when my administration pushed me to “just teach Algebra 1” to my intervention math kids that my eyes were opened to the power of just in time interventions. Here are the 3 main benefits:

Tailored to individual needs

Just in time interventions can be customized to each student's specific strengths and weaknesses, whereas just in case interventions provide a one-size-fits-all approach. I know this sounds overwhelming when you have over 100 students on your roster, but I promise this can be done efficiently.

More efficient: JIT interventions address problems as they arise, reducing the amount of time and resources needed compared to JIC interventions which require preparation and implementation ahead of time.

Increases engagement: JIT interventions tend to be more interactive and engaging for students, helping to maintain their focus and motivation.

How to provide just in time math interventions

Below is my approach to delivering just in time interventions based on real classroom experience and what worked for my students.

Step 1 Identify gaps in real time:

Before you teach a grade level concept, give a very short assessment. I’m talking 3 questions max and be sure to let students know it is not part of their grade, it’s to give you feedback to plan the lesson better. The questions should be very intentional and focused on the grade level content you’re planning to teach. The purpose is not to assess if they know the grade level material (they don’t… you haven’t taught it yet) it’s to find what they know about the concepts and skills that lead up to the grade level content.

Step 2 Create a plan for addressing specific needs:

Develop a plan for your classes, taking into account the data you just gathered. Rather than feeling overwhelmed that you need to create an individualized plan for each student, group students according to themes that emerge in their needs. And sometimes, the whole class will need the just in time intervention support and that’s okay (and actually less work for you) so don’t be upset if the data reveals they all need the support.

Step 3 Gather materials and resources:

Determine the resources and materials needed for the just in time interventions, such as lesson plans, math games, worksheets, or interactive software.

Step 4 Teach your lessons and gather real time feedback:

Teach the just in time gap filling interventions leading up to the grade level content lessons. Make sure to gather feedback from students in real time as you teach. You can do this by cold calling on students so you’re not relying on the volunteers who “get it,” use mini white boards so you can quickly see if students are getting it, or ungraded short exit slips to gather that formative feedback.

Step 5 Adjust lessons in real time:

If the data you’ve gathered in the previous step reveals students aren’t getting it, do not just push forward. You need to stop your plan, do additional examples or practice until students are getting it. You don’t have to wait for 100% mastery, afterall math does spiral and build on itself, but you do need to have the vast majority of the class with you before moving forward otherwise the students who are struggling just get further behind.

Step 6 Constantly encourage student participation, engagement, and community:

Foster an environment that encourages student participation and engagement. I love doing warm ups with engagement structures like which one doesn’t belong or notice and wonder that focus on students explaining their reasoning instead of getting just one calculated answer. Structures like these invite participation because there are so many correct answers which make students feel less anxious about contributing and only take 5 minutes of class time.

Step 7 Assess the effectiveness of the intervention:

Evaluate the intervention’s success through regular assessments and feedback from students. A weekly five question quiz is all you need to see how students are doing. Ask a mix of simple and complex questions from the week's content using a formative assessment structure like this one works well. Then use this data each week to inform the following week doing pre assessments (step 1) as needed.

Real classroom example

Grade level content: multi-step equations

Identify gaps in real time:

Give a quiz with the questions:

1. x + 5 = 14

2. 2x - 10 = -18

3. 5(x - 7) = 21

I’ve strategically chosen these questions to know if students know how to do one step equations, two step equations, or equations involving distributive property.

Create a plan for addressing specific needs:

Create groups of students based on the data: Students who didn’t understand question 1, didn’t understand question 2, didn’t understand question 3, and students who understood it all. What happens next really depends on where your students fall. If the vast majority of students struggled with even question 1, start the whole class at one step equations. If you had more of a mix of scores, you’ll need to devote a day to catching up those who are behind. I love using stations for this. Students who missed question 1 and 2 can sit with me in a small group while students who missed question 3 can get paired with a student who understood it all and get peer coaching.

Gather materials and resources:

I suggest printed worksheets for the students who sit in the small teacher led group. For the more intermediate group receiving peer coaching you can do printed worksheets or use online software like Khan Academy or IXL.

Teach your lessons and gather real time feedback:

I’ve tried many different instructional approaches and my Math Wars Method™️ is the best way to gather real time feedback through cold call and gradual release of responsibility. You can learn more about the Math Wars Method™️ in my free mini-workshop here.

Adjust lessons in real time to respond to the real time feedback:

What does that informal formative feedback from the previous step reveal? When you cold call on students, are they getting it or giving a lot of “I don’t know” or incorrect answers? When you use mini-whiteboards, are students lost or getting it? On an exit slip did the vast majority get it or are they still struggling? Again my Math Wars Method™️ streamlines this process and saves massive amounts of planning time. You can learn more about the Math Wars Method™️ in my free mini-workshop here.

Encourage student participation, engagement, and community:

For warm ups I’d choose some Which One Doesn’t Belong activities to get students thinking and talking. At the end of each unit I’d take time for intentional community building with classroom culture building activities.

Assess the effectiveness of the intervention:

I’d give a short, intentional quiz once a week covering the content we learned that week. My first weeks quiz would look very similar to the pre assessment with the last question being something I didn’t explicitly teach, but want to gather data about their knowledge (to inform next weeks plan) and ability to apply what we learned this week:

1. x + 5 = 14

2. 2x - 10 = -18

3. 22 = -5x + 40

4. 5(x - 7) = 21

5. 2x - 6 = -3x - 5

Let’s wrap up

I hope this has helped you see the benefits of just in time math intervention and that it’s not as hard or intense as you might have thought. The benefits are robust and once you dig into the 7 step process and tweak it and make it your own, you’ll be energized by the student engagement and growth!

Reach out on instagram with any questions!

More intervention math strategies

Make sure to download my free intervention math strategies guide for ready use math intervention tips!

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